In the middle of the holiday season, Massachusetts is now facing another Covid surge

DECEMBER 24, 2021

To all my Cambridge and Somerville constituents: Here's wishing you and your family a very happy and healthy holiday season, and Merry Christmas to all who celebrate tomorrow!

Unfortunately, my Xmas plans have been upended, with people on both sides of my family having very recently been exposed to Covid. Fortunately, everyone is vaccinated and boosted and no one has tested positive, and we are following all CDC guidelines and will be adjusting our plans accordingly.

I experienced a Covid concern of my own this week when I received a message via the state's MassNotify system that I had been exposed back on December 14. Since then I've tested negative three times and fortunately have not experienced any symptoms.

If you haven't already signed up for the MassNotify system — I highly recommend it. It uses anonymous Bluetooth signals to track your cellphone — and if you end up being in close proximity to someone who recently reported a Covid diagnosis, you'll get a message advising you to get tested, etc. The message I received was of course concerning, but I'm glad I was able to be armed with that information to be proactive about testing myself and protecting those around me. Follow this link to learn more about MassNotify.

I wish this update was simply about happy, holiday things — but given where things stand right now, I want to provide a few additional updates in our ongoing battle against the pandemic.

Today was the third day in a row of record-breaking Covid cases in Massachusetts, with the state reporting 10,040 new cases. This follows yesterday's record-breaking report of 9,042 new cases, and the 7,817 new cases that were reported on Wednesday. By comparison, in the earlier stages of the pandemic, case reports in the range of 2,000 to 5,000 per day were considered alarming.

Of course, we now have vaccines and boosters available, but at the same time, the Omicron variant is proving to be extremely contagious, many of our hospitals and ICUs are nearing or already at capacity, and there's even talk of a fourth shot as a future possibility. Follow this link to view the state's COVID-19 Interactive Data Dashboard.

What's worse, one recent model now projects that Massachusetts could see as many as 87,000 new cases per day by the end of January. Hopefully we can all do our part to avoid that worst-case scenario.

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts just distributed 2.1 million at-home test kits to communities in need, including Cambridge and Somerville — but the overall lack of available tests represents a major failure of the Biden Administration.

In the run up to the Christmas holiday, as the Omicron variant has continued to spread at unprecedented speed, it has become all too clear that we have once again failed in the battle with Covid, this time with respect to testing availability.

It hasn't been all bad news — as I mentioned in a recent newsletter, the state recently procured some 2.1 million iHealth Labs at-home rapid antigen test kits (with two tests per kit) that have now been delivered to the 102 municipalities with the highest percentage of families below the poverty level — and that includes Cambridge and Somerville.

I'm pleased to report that 21,000 of these at-home test kits are now being distributed to high risk and disproportionately impacted populations right here in Cambridge. Meanwhile, efforts are underway in Somerville to distribute 16,650 kits in an equitable fashion as well. More information about how Cambridge has been distributing its allotment of test kits is posted here on the city's website. Similarly, information about Somerville's distribution plan is posted online as well. 

For my part, I am continuing to advocate for bigger investments in more free tests. One need only take a look at the empty store shelves and very long lines at public test sites to see that there are simply not enough tests to go around right now. Despite these shortages, state and city testing sites will continue to be operational. Visit the following pages for more information about getting tested for COVID-19 at home or at a local testing site:

The lack of readily available and accessible Covid tests is a failure of government, starting with the Biden Administration, as they have inexplicably taken a rather causal attitude toward making both PCR and rapid antigen tests more widely available at the scale that only the federal government can achieve. This recent story from the Washington Post, "Inside the administration's failure to avert a Covid testing shortfall," offers some good insight into the situation. President Biden is now promising to procure 500 million additional tests sometime in January — but experts are suggesting that even that figure is still inadequate.

For my part, I was on the phone with House Leadership just this morning, advocating for us to use some of the record-breaking $7+ billion we are now projecting in FY22 surplus and ARPA reserves toward an urgent effort to secure more rapid tests. By taking this action, we could help bridge the gap between now and whenever the federal government starts to make good on the President's latest testing plan.

In addition, I am a co-sponsor of legislation that would dramatically scale-up the state's rapid testing capacity, and I recently signed on to a COVID-19 Action Plan produced by a group of public health experts. The plan calls for stronger indoor masking requirements and mobile vaccine and booster clinics, along with several other measures. The intent is to help save lives, preserve the capacity of the healthcare system, and do more to keep kids in school and keep the economy running. Moreover, I continue to support stronger vaccine mandates such as the one introduced by Mayor Wu earlier this week.

Finally, in my conversation with House Leadership this morning, I also advocated for urgent action to extend the state's expanded rental assistance program. Just last week, the Baker Administration announced that certain expanded rental assistance eligibility provisions would be curtailed starting on January 1st. These decisions originated from budget language that was drafted back in the late-spring and early summer, prior to the Delta wave and way before the Omicron surge. That our state is now about to scale back rental assistance programs is cause for serious concern, and some 160 organizations — including housing agencies, social justice groups, organizations representing minority populations, and a wide range of social service agencies — are all united on the need to keep these expanded benefits going into the future.

If you haven't done so already, the best thing you can do is get vaccinated and get boosted.

For all who are eligible, the most important thing we can do to bring this nightmare to an end is get vaccinated and get boosted! More information on where to get vaccinated or boosted is available here:

In closing, I am also very sorry to report that the state is facing another grim milestone this week, as we're approaching 20,000 Covid deaths in Massachusetts. My heart goes out to all of my constituents who have lost a loved one to this pandemic over the past 22 months.

As we look forward to the new year, let's continue to do all we can to keep each other safe and hopefully bring this pandemic to an end once and for all.

Yours in service,

Rep. Mike Connolly